After taking time off to raise my children, I decided it was time to get back in the work force at the age of 36. Upon completion of my master’s degree in industrial engineering, I started work as an operations analyst for Salt River Project, a utility that delivers electricity and water to the Phoenix metropolitan area. When I joined SRP, I had no formal career plan and never imagined that nine years later I would be in upper management. As a female executive in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I am often asked how I achieved this success. My response initially was “just lucky, in the right place at the right time.” I quickly realized I needed to review my career, my experiences and take stock of what has contributed to my success—to remind myself and to share with others. Here are just some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned as I made my way to management:

  • Do what you say. Your employees will look to you for guidance and respect you if your actions mirror your words.
  • Know your company’s business. My primary responsibility is to oversee and maintain SRP’s support functions, which include supply chain, facilities, machine shop services and fleet management. But I have made it a point to learn all I can about the business of providing electricity and water to hundreds of thousands of customers. This has the added benefit of growing your network and fostering collaboration.
  • Take the time to know your staff. The more you know about your employees’ personal strengths and challenges, the better prepared you are to lead and develop them.
  • Be flexible to respond to whatever comes your way, looking for opportunities in every situation. Don’t be too proud to ask for help; instead view it as an opportunity to learn from others. Acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Always be on a journey of continuous, lifelong learning.

Most importantly, give back, whether it’s mentoring another employee, removing barriers or championing a cause for others. I am fortunate to have worked for leaders who believed in me and provided opportunities for me to learn and grow, personally and professionally. In the process, I picked up a lot of wisdom that I now can share with others. I truly enjoy that.